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As a busy, committed and ambitious professional, you want to get the most out of your day, always pushing yourself to achieve as much as you can. However, if you really want to perform at your best, you need to think of your mind and body as one, ensuring that the two are in harmony.
The recent surge in interest in the benefits of meditation and mindfulness shows that there is a need and a desire for a more complete, holistic approach to life and wellbeing.
Traditional meditation, is a structured approach originally used by Tibetan monks as a means of achieving enlightenment and improving your state of mind. It uses a variety of forms and techniques to gaining insight and inner calm, from primordial sound meditation (Lady Gaga is a fan), transcendental meditation (favoured by the Beatles), through to Zen, a more philosophical or even spiritual approach.
And there is increasing scientific evidence to support the benefits of this age-old technique. Recent research suggests that it may help to prevent strokes and heart attacks and also be key to improving memory and cognitive skills.
It seems that meditation has the ability to bring about physical changes in our brain. According to Sarah Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, it can enhance areas of the brain to do with our senses, memory and decision-making in just eight weeks.
And, aside from bringing greater calmness to help you cope better with life situations, it seems that meditation can also help you become more productive by focusing longer, even on boring, routine tasks.
Mindfulness is a subjective form of meditation, in which you learn to be ‘in the moment’, to focus on doing one thing at a time, to tune out external distractions and tune into your own thoughts and feelings, helping you to relax, and to recognise and deal with negative emotions.
So how do you do it?
Typically, formal kinds of meditation involve finding somewhere quiet to sit and relax, then learning to travel deep into your mind, stepping outside the rushing world, leaving overwhelm behind and achieving a state of deep relaxation and heightened awareness.
However, there is another, excellent way to help recharge your mind that involves no effort or special technique, yet offers great benefits, and that is the art of taking a nap.
I’m a great fan of the afternoon nap – being Spanish, it’s a practice I grew up with. I understood from an early age that taking a ‘siesta’ is a healthy habit, not a luxury. The ideal time is straight after lunch, and it’s better done in a sitting position to aid digestion, but any time around 3 to 4 in the afternoon is good. The aim is to recharge your mind, not to sleep, and 20 to 30 min is perfect to improve alertness and performance without leaving you feeling groggy, grumpy or interfering with your night-time sleep.
Many famous, successful people were daily nappers. Thomas Edison took a daily nap, though somewhat embarrassed about his napping habit. President John F. Kennedy ate lunch in bed, then settled in for a daily nap. Churchill believed it helped him get twice as much done each day, so his afternoon nap was non-negotiable. Rockefeller napped every afternoon in his office, and Einstein took a nap each day, as well as getting ten hours’ sleep each night. Eleanor Roosevelt used to boost her energy by napping before speaking engagements. Even Napoleon took a daily nap and wasn’t shy about it.
Napping has many proven benefits. It restores alertness, helping you get back up to speed and avoid the afternoon energy-dip. It also heightens sensory perception, improves your creativity and helps you to create new associations.
Not only that. Did you know that those who take a midday siesta at least three times a week are 37 percent less likely to die of heart disease? “Taking a nap could turn out to be an important weapon in the fight against coronary mortality,” said Dimitrios Trichopoulos of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.
His study also demonstrated that a thirty-minute nap boosted the performance of workers, returning their productivity to beginning-of-the-day levels. It seems that the secret to becoming more productive is not managing your time; it’s managing your energy.
Life in a hamster wheel isn’t a fulfilling life. Feeling exhausted and overwhelmed doesn’t help anybody to be more productive, and in fact last year in the UK 35% of all work-related illness was attributed to stress.
Taking a nap is like a system reboot. It relieves stress and gives you a fresh start. It stops the day’s wear and tear from ‘frying your circuits’, giving you greater emotional resilience and improved cognitive function.
Far from being irrelevant in our fast-moving modern world, a daily ‘switch-off’ is something you need to find time to incorporate into your day, no matter how busy you are, to help you get the most from yourself and life in general.
So, if you have ever thought that taking time out to practise mindfulness or meditation, or to take a nap, is a waste of valuable time, remember that you’re not simply a walking computer, and that giving your mind a rest will pay off many times over.
You owe it to yourself to bring your best, to be your best, and give your best, at work and in all areas of your life, so be creative, do it your way and start to enjoy the benefits!
About the author:
Maite Barón is a multi-award winning author, passionate about courageous leadership, happiness and wellbeing. She is a co-founder of The Corporate Escape™, which specialises in helping professionals rekindle their passion for life and reinvent themselves. She’s an international speaker and a regular contributor to the influential Huffington Post, Global Banking and Finance Review (GBFR) and Entrepreneur.